Dr. W. Scott Piper III interview: Safety on the eve of his third trip arou

Dr. W. Scott Piper III, an orthopedic surgeon based in Miami, is about to embark on his third circumnavigation on his J160 Pipe Dream IX. An experienced around-the-buoys and ocean racer, he has sailed in numerous races and has posted wins in such events as the Rolex Cup in the British West Indies; the Pineapple Cup; the Miami-Montego Bay Race; the Annapolis-Bermuda Race, on which he set the course record; and he placed first in the American division in the Round-the-World Rally. On his previous circumnavigations, he entered races along the way, and thus recently raced in the Sydney-Hobart Race. Piper will be incorporating an entry in the next Transpac Race into this next trip around.

His first circumnavigation was an east-to-west Milk Run passage as part of the Round-the-World Rally, while on the second trip, Pipe Dream went unaccompanied on a west-to-east route and never stopped at a port he visited on the first trip. His latest effort will be east to west, including the North Pacific. He has racked up an impressive list of waypoints: the Panama Canal several times, the Suez Canal, the Cape of Good Hope, the Straits of Magellan and the Horn.

He put his medical skills to work on his previous voyages around the globe by treating individual natives in the jungles of Venezuela and entire villages in the Maldive Islands.

We asked him some questions about safety just prior to his departure.

OV: Having completed two full circumnavigations and considering all the ocean racing you’ve done, how do you approach the issue of safety? How important a role does it play in your pre-voyage planning?

WSP: Good seamanship and common sense dictate my approach to safety at sea. As part of any pre-race or pre-long-distance cruising, I always have the crew conference concerning safety. We go through the safety gear and its location as well as the method for stopping the boat with a crewmember overboard. If I have new crew that haven’t sailed with me before, I demonstrate this method. In general, I feel that the two greatest dangers at sea are getting run over by a freighter or falling overboard. Because of this, I place a great deal of emphasis on the use of jack lines, harnesses and personal strobes. I also put considerable effort into keeping a watch for shipping by radar as well as direct observation. To that end, we use night-vision goggles on occasion and binoculars with an electronic compass for taking bearings.

My boat carries all the equipment required for offshore category II. Furthermore, all this gear is routinely inspected, replaced and upgraded. Both the Sydney-Hobart and Newport-Bermuda races require pre-race safety inspections. Both race committees were impressed with our gear and preparation.

OV: How do you plan for medical emergencies? What medical problems have you faced on previous voyages?

WSP: As far as medical emergencies go, I am an expert in that department, since I am an orthopedic surgeon. I carry an extreme amount of medical equipment on my long-distance voyaging. I have used a good bit of it. On the Round-the-World Rally, I did minor surgery and held sick call in many ports. The most significant treatment occurred in Croatia. While there, I was swimming with two other crewmembers in a river above a series of waterfalls. One crewmember was swept over the falls and landed on the rocks almost 40 feet below. He sustained a broken dislocated shoulder, a broken dislocated wrist and a broken dislocated ankle and foot. He had multiple other injuries, including broken ribs, concussion, abrasions and lacerations. I was able to treat all these problems and fully stabilize my friend before we flew him back to the United States. Though obviously, what I was able to do is the exception. As a rule, I would recommend that each skipper carry only as much as he is familiar with and is competent to use.

OV: What type of life raft do you have? How often do you get it repacked? What types of gear do you include in the raft or in your abandon-ship bag?

WSP: I have an eight-person Avon raft with a double bottom and canopy. It’s inspected every year and repacked. This raft comes with much of the gear required for offshore category-II racing. However, in addition to this gear, I carry an additional waterproof VHF radio, extra flares and a small Salvor watermaker.

OV: What is your approach to wearing life jackets and/or harnesses while offshore? Do you normally rig jack lines at night or only in bad weather?

WSP: There are jack lines rigged on both the port and starboard sides, and they remain there full-time for any significant ocean passage. Each crewmember must have a PFD, which is a combination of harness and flotation device. Either the skipper or the watch officer will determine when they are to be worn. But they are not uncomfortable, and if there is any question, they are mandated. As a general rule, no crewmember may leave the cockpit at night without first putting on a harness. Also, individual or personal strobe lights are issued to each crewmember and must be worn at night.

OV: What method do you favor for returning to pick up a crewmember who has fallen overboard? Why do you think this is the best approach?

WSP: The helmsman is instructed to immediately put the helm hard over and spin the boat to windward. We have practiced this often, and it will effectively stop or slow the boat very close to the crewmember overboard. The helmsman then turns around behind him and releases the Man Overboard Module, and the crew below is immediately alerted by this maneuver. They hit the man-overboard button on the GPS. Then we can shorten sail and get the boat under control to come back for the retrieval.

OV: What types of safety gear do you plan to purchase and why?

WSP: I am pretty well equipped at this time. However, satellite communications gear is improving, and I plan to keep up with it.

By Ocean Navigator